Super Star

Cobra USA builds a custom cruiser that works as good as it looks

It was dj vu all over again. There I was in the Motorcyclist parking lot, scribbling in a notebook as renowned custom bike-builder Denny Berg ran down the long list of mods he'd made to his latest creation. Cobra USA president Ken Boyko stood nearby talking with PR maven Camron Bussard, both looking more than a little concerned about the proceedings. It all felt too familiar, like watching a scene in a movie and realizing it was your life being played out on the screen. Hadn't I just quit a magazine job to avoid writing this sort of story?

Yes I had. Yet here I was interviewing a group of guys who'd not only gotten the Japanese custom industry rolling more than a decade ago, but who'd continued to push it downhill year after year with a seemingly endless succession of radical two-wheeled customs.

The difference this time was the bike they were showing me was meant to be ridden. The chain of events leading up to the creation of this particular motorcycle went something like this: At the big annual Dealernews motorcycle trade show in Indianapolis last February, Boyko and Motorcyclist editor Mitch Boehm bumped into one another and renewed their yearly discussion about featuring a Cobra-built custom in the magazine's pages. Boyko, it seemed, had a plan: Instead of building another gorgeous, all-show-and-no-go custom destined to be photographed in a studio with fancy lights and maybe a pretty girl draped over the saddle (something Motorcyclist wasn't interested in), he offered to build a hotted-up but rideable custom--something lean and mean and muscley in a way most such specials aren't. He proposed basing the project on Yamaha's hugely functional Road Star Warrior, Motorcyclist's 2002 Cruiser of the Year. Boehm agreed immediately, and the result is the Cobra Superstar featured here. With its fat tires, powerful brakes, sporty suspension and prodigious ability to go, stop and corner, Yamaha's Warrior is very definitely our kind of cruiser. What appears to be a badass boulevard bike is really more of a standard in disguise--a naked bike in drag. The only visual glitch is its massive sportbike-style muffler, which overwhelms the right-side silhouette. That observation wasn't lost on Berg, who said he found the stock bike looked cluttered. "I didn't like all the stuff on it," he said. "The exposed horn and coils, the muffler, all the covers ... I took it apart and put it back together using only the parts it needed." He also wondered why Yamaha would go to all the trouble of making an aluminum frame and so many nice aluminum castings--and then hide them all under a coat of black paint.

So Berg's first order of business was stripping the bike down to the bare frame and sandblasting it. Berg loves his holesaws, and per his usual practice cut a couple of holes in the steering-head gusset. He decided to leave the frame raw, roughing it up with a disc grinder to resemble the swingarm on an old dirtbike.

The stock Yamaha bodywork got the treatment, too, the unsightly seam removed from the bottom of the gas tank, the fenders shortened 3 to 4 inches and everything painted silver and chocolate brown. The passenger portion of the stock seat was sawed off to make the bike a solo ride, and billet covers were made to hide the passenger-peg mounts. To exude speed, the tachometer was tilted back and the handlebar secured by a set of curving risers from a Harley-Davidson Deuce. "A guy asked me if the bike was fast, and I told him the risers were straight when I put them on," Berg jokes.

Cool details are everywhere. The switchgear wires run inside the handlebar, the brake and clutch cables through a hole in the top triple-clamp and the front brake hose down through the steering stem to the left-side caliper; a crossover hose runs under the fender to the right. The stock inverted fork was polished, a Progressive Suspension shock bolted up in back and Performance Machine brakes and wheels shod with Metzeler radials round out the rolling chassis.

It would be a shame to leave the motor untouched while it was out of the frame, so it received select parts from the Yamaha Speedstar Stage IV competition kit: forged high-compression pistons, cams, diaphragm clutch spring, the works. A kit ignition box raises the rev limit by a few hundred rpm, while a Cobra Fi2000 module fine-tunes the fuel injection. Berg painted the formerly black engine silver-gray, polishing the heads, sidecovers and oil tank--what little of it shows. He also removed the stock airbox, set aside the kit velocity stacks and clamped on a pair of K&N; filters. This freed space to relocate the horn and coils out of sight under the fuel tank. Berg opened up some more space by removing the air cleaner and scoop filling the vee between the cylinders. "I like to be able to see through a motorcycle," he explains. Adding some visual pizzazz is a slick air scoop made from a muffler turnout. "It routes a little cooling air to the rear cylinder head, but mostly it just looks bitchin'," he admits. Twin mufflers replace the stock smokestack-looking thing, giving the bike the look of a Harley-Davidson V-Rod from the right side. Those mufflers, incidentally, were made by Cobra's co-owner and ace pipe-bender Tim McCool. With a name like that, he should have his own show on the Discovery Channel.

Berg made another billet cover to fill in the stock muffler mount, tucked in the rear master cylinder, and then replaced the unsightly brake-light switch with a stealthy hydraulic unit. Showing the attention to detail that has earned him the respect of other builders, he reworked the wiring harness to move it to the left side so it wouldn't show in photos taken from the right--the "beauty side." He then capped off the project by nickel-plating the kickstand and drilling his signature hole in the foot. "That's just something I always do," he says.

OK, so the Superstar looks the business--how does it work? Throw a leg over the saddle and you know right away you're aboard something special. With three buttons on each of the PM handlebar switches, it's hard to know which one triggers the starter. Figure it out and the engine responds with a roar, exploding to life and settling into a throbbing idle. With the whole bike shaking beneath you, there's no doubting the engine is potent.

Reach for the left-hand lever and you're greeted by one of the stiffest clutch pulls in motorcycling; blame the competition spring. Click it into gear, ease out the clutch and the bike lurches; the diaphragm spring gives the lever a toggle-switch feel. Roll on the throttle and the bike hurtles forward with far greater urgency than the stocker, reminding us why built, big-bore V-twins are so entertaining around town. Dial up a big handful at a stoplight, dump the clutch and you're catapulted forward, the rear wheel howling for a city block. With a wheelbase this long, there's no danger of looping it. Fortunately, the excellent PM brakes haul the bike back down from speed with authority.

Out on the open road, the Superstar feels much like a stock Warrior; it just has better acceleration and a far larger reserve of passing power. Same on winding roads, where handling is a tad better thanks to the 47 pounds Berg pared off the machine, but cornering clearance remains limited. Ride quality is similar in spite of the Progressive shock fitted.

So how much does the Superstar cost? and when can you buy one? The answer is you can't--it's a one-off show bike and there are no plans to replicate it. But the cool thing is, you can build one yourself. The philosophy applied in creating this bike works not just on a Road Star Warrior, but on any motorcycle. As Berg says, "I wanted to build this bike using mostly stock parts. I just used fewer of them, and thought about how they looked and fit together." That's a build ethic we can get behind. MC

Patrick Racing
Warriors that live up to their name

When it comes to making metric cruisers do more than cruise, there's only one name you need to know: Nigel Patrick. In the brief history of the AMA/Prostar Hot Rod Cruiser drag-racing class, Road Star Warriors tuned by Patrick Racing have won the championship three times and were well on their way to four as this was being written. Team rider Rick McWaters also currently holds the class record with a run of 9.161 seconds at 145.30 mph. That's smoke-a-Hayabusa fast.

Naturally, the Warriors that McWaters and teammate Jeremy English ride are modified almost beyond recognition, but the company offers all sorts of bolt-on parts, too. Want a 150-horsepower street racer? Then order up an ignition, a fuel-injection tuning module, a high-flow air kit, some cams, valve springs, billet pushrod tubes, high-compression pistons, maybe a big-bore kit--they come as big as 2000cc, you know. If that isn't enough, maybe you ought to just buy a catapult.

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Out on the open road, the Superstar feels much like a stock Warrior; it just has better acceleration and a far larger reserve of passing power.
Dial up a big handful at a stoplight, dump the clutch and you're catapulted forward, the rear wheel howling for a city block.